Please stop making TV shows like movies

Relax. Euphoria is not the best show you’ve ever seen.

Oct. 13, 2022, 9:16 p.m.

Television and cinema are two very different forms of media. Sure, sometimes you may see TV shows made into movie offshoots, or movies lead to TV show spin-offs — but the two are not as similar as you think. These are two independent forms of visual media, each with their own beauty and finer details, and their differences have become clearer as digital media has evolved.

So why do people want TV shows to be made at the production level of a movie?

Ever since the development of so-called “prestige television,” featuring the likes of “The Sopranos,” “The West Wing” and “Mad Men,” the television industry has received a lot of acclaim for setting a standard for hour-long, well-produced shows with deep and finely written character development. Key characteristics of these productions include complicated characters with sometimes-questionable behavior, episodes with complex plot lines and story or character development arching over multiple seasons. These shows comprise what is often called the “golden era of television,” responsible for some of the best shows audiences have ever seen.

Obviously, not every show made in this era aimed to be a “prestige TV show.” Back in the era of cable TV, a major characteristic was the importance of a show assigned by its time slot in a weekly schedule; a Friday 9 p.m. primetime show had precedence over a show on Monday at 11 p.m. Thus, these channels were able to easily separate shows that were aiming for the “prestige” spot from the shows that weren’t.

This separation is far from the norm in today’s televisual world. As we experience the paradigm of streaming, shows and all their episodes are available to us with the click of a button. The previous temporal separation between shows has vanished, and now my Netflix recommendations has “Indian Matchmaking” on the same row as “The Queen’s Gambit.” This has changed the way we understand what prestige television is: now that all shows are huddled under the same umbrella, people tend to compare them with each other more and more.

An episode of a TV show doesn’t need to be the best piece of visual media to grace the screen — it doesn’t need to be shot on a film camera or written by a team of 30 writers for it to be considered “good.” The beauty of television is that it doesn’t need to be a 10-layer, award-winning wedding cake. Sometimes TV can be a simple plate of fresh chopped fruit that your mother brings to you without asking — refreshing, effortless to consume, and served with an unspoken amount of love and care. 

I’m not arguing that shows like “Euphoria,” HBO’s hyper-stylized soap, are not great shows — I’m merely saying that there is no reason why we should blindly rate an episode of Euphoria ten times higher than a random episode of “The Bachelorette.” With multinational media conglomerates pumping money into streaming services to make the next viral show, the expectations of good mainstream TV are changing. As we move into an era of prestige streaming, shows that belong to two different sub-genres of TV can be found on the same service, leading to them being compared by audiences.

Sometimes aspects of television that people see as “less serious” than movies are what make the medium so special. The advantage of a TV series is that you’re allowed to add secondary plot lines and stories to episodes that don’t have to be purely concerned with the show’s main narrative. Movies aren’t given that privilege — everything needs to fit in a couple of hours and directors are forced to cut down on the fat.

TV shows are allowed to have more time and space to tell the not-so-important stories from the world of the show. And sometimes, that’s what makes TV so much more similar to the real world; life is not like a movie where everything that happens is super important and you resolve all your problems in two hours. Life is more like a bunch of seasons where in some episodes, nothing really happens, but you still enjoy it because you’re around people and places you love, even if you don’t have a major life-changing event every day.

I think shows like “Euphoria” often take themselves too seriously, projecting each of their episodes as films. There’s no extra fluff, and everything is consciously directed towards a set of main plots. And while that is definitely a strategy of storytelling in visual media, it doesn’t make it inherently better than doing the opposite. Having secondary plotlines that just exist for the sake of themselves rather than a larger point is more true to real life and can be very entertaining.

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. I’m someone who would prefer a Christmas-themed episode of a show that has little to do with the main story, rather than a two-hour finale in which you need to focus on every little detail. The absence of an IMAX film camera and a blank check budget in a show’s production doesn’t mean that it deserves any less respect as a piece of audiovisual media. “Euphoria” is a well-made show, and I’m sure that there are people who really enjoy that kind of visual art. But in my opinion, it’s not a show that we are going to look back on and watch reruns of five years down the line.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Aditeya Shukla '23 is the Managing Editor for the Arts & Life section. He enjoys making indie pop music and watching Formula 1. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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